By JOHN SICILIANO
A conservative clean energy summit will descend on Washington this week to show “it’s OK” for Republicans to support wind and solar.
The summit, backed by groups representing young conservative and Christian voters, will hear from a number of Republican lawmakers who support renewable energy and want conservatives to take back leadership from the Left on the subject, and to some degree climate change.
Former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tops the list of Republicans addressing the Conservative Clean Energy Summit being held Thursday on Capitol Hill. Graham will be joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a key Republican advocate for wind energy subsidies and senior member on the Senate Finance Committee.
Other Republicans addressing the summit will include Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dean Heller of Nevada. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Leo Goff, who now serves on CNA’s Military Advisory Board, also will address the summit.
The Christian Coalition and Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, the groups hosting the event, said “hundreds of grassroots activists” from across the country will gather at the nation’s “largest conservative clean-energy event” to deliver a message to Washington: “Conservatives want clean energy — and they want their representatives in Congress to lead on this issue.” They also will use the forum to roll out new polling data on conservative attitudes regarding clean and renewable energy.
Michele Combs, founder and chairwoman of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, said the summit will be mainly focused on educating lawmakers and voters on the issue, and that “it’s OK for a conservative” to support clean energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass and other resources.
The energy mix has to be supported by an “all-of-the-above” policy, she said. “We understand that fossil fuels won’t be gone tomorrow, but we would like to see a path to cleaner energy,” Combs told theWashington Examiner.
The range of clean energy resources in the U.S. has been growing and that “is very exciting,” she added. “It’s patriotic. It’s homegrown.”
She said she thinks the polling data that will be released during the summit will reflect conservatives’ support for those resources, especially for energy independence, and having energy coming from within the United States, instead of through an over-reliance on imports.
The polling data “is going to be very positive,” Combs said. The younger voters, between 18 and 35, see “it as a value issue.” But the “highest polling” numbers will be on energy independence. “People want to get out of the Middle East” and “not have wars over oil and fossil fuels,” she said.
She also said many conservatives support the jobs coming from new resources such as solar and wind that require technical expertise and a parts industry to support continued growth. She said those jobs, especially for solar, are growing, and conservatives support that. She said it’s happening in every state.
She said for younger conservative voters and those older than 40, clean energy is being associated with “family values” and protecting children’s health. There is “no litmus test” on the issue of climate change to be a member of the organizations. Of course, clean energy will help reduce carbon pollution that scientists blame for causing global warming, and most younger members support taking action to address the issue.
Combs explained that she became involved in the energy debate when she was pregnant and the medical advice was for expectant mothers not to eat fish. She learned through research that the advice was based on mercury coming from coal-fired power plants.
In South Carolina, where she and Graham hail from, the state has moved away from coal and toward nuclear, hydropower and, just recently, more solar energy. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is backing that push, signing a bill into law two years ago to encourage renewable energy and offer solar energy project incentives.
Combs also noted that military is also “leading the way on this [issue]. They have done so much.”
She pointed out that the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station in South Carolina has now become a solar energy user, which Goff will underscore at the summit.
He has pointed out that cleaner energy is required to reduce the military’s dependence of diesel fuel and the large, vulnerable convoys required to fuel the troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, she said. The convoys were easy targets for enemy troops and a key vulnerability in supporting combat operations overseas.
The military has been pushing to become more energy efficient, while seeking to rely on devices such as collapsible solar arrays to power bases instead of diesel generators.
It’s an issue that attracts “hardcore conservatives” and libertarians because it’s about controlling where they get energy and “what they do with clean energy,” which aims to free the consumer from relying on utilities and other energy suppliers, she said.
The summit comes as Jay Faison, the head of the ClearPath Foundation, has been lobbying support for what he calls Republican Clean Energy, which includes nuclear, hydropower, natural gas and clean coal, but not renewables.
Typically, the GOP gets firmly behind the oil and gas industry. However, the natural gas pipeline industry started a campaign called America’s Energy Link that supports fossil fuels working with solar, wind and other renewables as complementary resources.
“The United States has an abundance of both natural gas and quality renewable resources. These energy sources are allies — not competitors,” a flier from the campaign reads. “The U.S. is the world’s biggest energy consumer, and to meet our nation’s demand, natural gas and renewables must work together and maintain an interdependent relationship. Natural gas and renewables are not mutually exclusive, but rather naturally complementary.”